Health coverage costs central to BART labor dispute 

click to enlarge BART workers currently pay $95 a month for health care coverage, but the agency's contract offer would eventually have them pay 10 percent of the total cost. - JEFF CHIU/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Jeff Chiu/AP file photo
  • BART workers currently pay $95 a month for health care coverage, but the agency's contract offer would eventually have them pay 10 percent of the total cost.

Health care costs are the fastest-growing expense at BART, and a management proposal that would double some workers' monthly bills for insurance is one of the major sticking points that led to last week's strike.

Currently, all BART workers — from General Manager Grace Crunican on down — pay $95 a month for health insurance that also covers all dependents. Workers also pay 1.67 percent of their paychecks to cover retiree health care.

Under BART's most recent contract offer, workers would instead pay a steadily increasing percentage of their health insurance's actual cost that increases to 10 percent by the fourth year of the contract, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by The San Francisco Examiner.

The proposal would increase the average worker's health insurance costs by 50 percent, and almost double the cost for workers with families. This, in part, led to the 4½ day strike, according to workers.

BART workers' contract expired at midnight June 30. A strike began the following morning and lasted until July 5, when the agency's 3,200 unionized employees agreed to go back to work for at least 30 days while contract negotiations continued.

Both sides have been meeting independently with state-appointed mediators this week. Formal negotiations are scheduled to resume Friday.

If no agreement is in place within the 30-day time period, BART workers could choose to strike again. BART's two biggest unions — Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 — are involved in negotiations.

BART has offered its union workers a total of 8 percent in raises over four years, but along with those raises come bigger-than-ever employee contributions toward health insurance and pensions.

The cost billed to BART for the average worker's medical insurance is $1,378 per month, according to BART budget documents. For workers with families, it's $1,738.

About 90 percent of BART's workers are covered by Kaiser Permanente.

Neither side is able to discuss specifics of negotiations due to a gag order imposed by state mediators.

BART is projected to spend $56.2 million on employee health care over the next year, 10 percent more than it spent the previous year, according to budget documents. The cost charged to the agency by some of the insurance companies with which it contracts has risen by 16.2 percent.

Employees at BART need to start paying more for health care and pensions in order for the aging transit system to upgrade and improve, BART officials have said. BART has $6 billion in unfunded capital improvement needs over the next decade.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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